Review: D&D’s ‘Princes of the Apocalypse’ is a blast once you’re in it

The Temple of Elemental Evil is here.

And it’s full of Eternal Flame priests, giant crabs, wind elementals and rust monsters.

Holy crap. I can’t wait to storm the halls of the temple’s caverns and take down an elemental prophet.

Dungeons & Dragons’ “Princes of the Apocalypse” 5th edition adventure is here. The 255-page book, which retails for $49.95, is the second storyline for the RPG’s 5th edition. Like the “Tyranny of Dragons” storyline, this adventure runs from levels 1 to 15. (Though, Tyranny came in two books that were $29.95 each.)

The book presents an epic story that has adventurers raiding the Temple of Elemental Evil, a giant series of cavern that is home to the elemental cults of air, wind, water and fire that are attempting to bring about the apocalypse.

The hefty tome offers pages and pages of adventures, quests, dungeons, cities, maps, amazing art and an entire valley to explore. It’s a big book, and there’s a whole lot of adventure here.

But a big problem with this adventure, written by Sasquatch Game Studio and published by Wizards of the Coast, is the motivation of both the cults and the adventurers.

Adventure hooks are almost as important as the adventure itself. Why play the game if you can’t get excited about it?

“Princes of the Apocalypse” presents a lackluster backstory: A powerful drow wizard created elemental weapons for elemental cults to find. Eventually, they do locate these weapons, and they are all set about causing destruction. Enter the adventurers.

Here’s what’s goofy: There’s isn’t much of a reason for the drow to create the weapons. Who knows how or why he lures them there (other than undescribed “visions”)? Why do all the cults inhabit the same temple and caverns if they mostly don’t get along? What does the elemental apocalypse have to do with the Elder Elemental Eye or the individual cults?

None of this is explained well.

Shouldn’t they all be working together to summon an elemental god — say, Tharizdun, the aformentioned Elder Elemental Eye? Perhaps each cult would race to summon him to earn his favor.

Material is provided to hook your players.

Several character backgrounds are offered, but they’re not fleshed out well. Barely a paragraph of description is devoted to each. It’s not much of a hook, and each one could use at least one more line to give a little more motivation to PCs.

Here’s what’s great: Not much of what I said before matters. Once you’re into it, the adventure will be a blast.

(Spoiler Warning: From here on out, we’ll be talking pretty openly about the adventure’s story details. Spoilers ahead!)

Most of the game is spent investigating and taking down the elemental cults. That involves trekking up towers, fighting men riding bulettes, delving into deep caves and dungeon running some pretty epic lairs. Oh, and you’ll probably fight the biggest elementals you’ve ever seen.

“Princes of the Apocalypse” takes place in the Dessarin Valley of the Forgotten Realms, and the adventure begins in the town of Red Larch where the rise of the previously mentioned elemental cults has begun to cause some problems.

Investigating all that bad junk leads to the Sumber Hills. There, the party will infiltrate any one of several entrances to an expansive system of caverns and dungeons that, years ago, was built by a dwarven kingdom. Since then, it’s been overrun with bad guys.

Beneath the Sumber Hills are several enormous dungeons. On that note, I must mention the masterful maps by cartographers Mike Schley and Sean MacDonald. (You can buy their maps online to use with your campaign at Schley and MacDonald’s respective websites.) Schley, especially, shines in his depiction of the final four temples. They are detailed, huge and glorious.

Mike Schley: Princes of the Apocalypse &emdash; Princes of the Apocalypse; Weeping Colosus (Digital DM & Player Versions)

One by one, characters can raid the temples and destroy them. And while the party is destroying one cult, the others may wreak havoc on the surface. I really enjoy those kind of consequences in the game.

For that matter, there are tons of ways to play through this adventure and that kind of leeway will make sure PCs don’t feel railroaded.

It’s all dicey stuff, too. Characters will be in danger, and relationships they establish with NPCs in the story are very important. And the friends they make may be in danger, too.

As a sourcebook, “Princes of the Apocalypse” is robust.

Chapters 1 and 2 set up the adventure and give the DM an idea of the adventuring area. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 describe the specific adventures, encounters and areas.

Chapter 6 includes side adventurers and quests, including adventures that will get a level 1 party up to the main adventure that begins in Chapter 3.

Chapter 7 lays out all the new monsters including cultists, priests, the big and bad elemental prophets, bigger and badder elementals and the uber-scary princes of elemental evil.

Your PCs better hope they survive the likes of Imix and Olhydra when they’re summoned.

Of course, there’s also an appendix on the Genasi race and a second appendix with new spells. (Both of these, and three other new races, are in D&D’s recent Elemental Evil free PDF. I’m not sure why those other races aren’t included in this book.)

Though the setting of this (and other 5e D&D products) is defaulted to the Forgotten Realms, the book also offers options on adapting the adventure to other game worlds including Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Greyhawk and Eberron.

It’s a robust book, and well worth the cover price in this writer’s opinion. Even if your gaming group doesn’t follow the adventure word for word, it offers a huge amount to explore and conquer.

Have you tried out the Princes of the Apocalypse on your table? Tell us about it.

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